Rape of the Lock
The Rape of the Lock
is a mock-heroic
poem written by Alexander Pope
and published in May 1712. The poem is based on an incident involving Arabella Fermor and her suitor, possibly Lord Petre. During a visit, the suitor asked for, and then took ("raped") a locket of hair from Arabella. Pope refigures Arabella as Belinda and introduces an entire system of "sylphs," or guardian spirits of virgins, and creates an epic out of a petty squabble.
The humor of the poem comes from the juxtaposition of this tempest in a teapot of vanity with the elaborate, formal verbal structure of an epic poem. When the Baron, for example, goes to snip the lock of hair, Pope says,
- The Peer now spreads the glittering Forfex wide,
- T' inclose the Lock; now joins it, to divide.
- Ev'n then, before the fatal Engine clos'd,
- A wretched Sylph too fondly interpos'd;
- Fate urged the Sheers, and cut the Sylph in twain,
- (But Airy Substance soon unites again)
- The meeting Points the sacred Hair dissever
- From the fair Head, for ever and for ever!
- - Canto III, Alexander Pope
In effect, Pope inflates the already over-blown passions to show just how silly it all is.
The poem was very well received and helped cement Pope's reputation as the foremost poet of his age.